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Comparing Elements of Turntable Construction, Kindly requesting your help in building a turntable comparison chart.
Knowzy
post Aug 19 2008, 03:06
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Greetings HydrogenAudio.

USB turntables, as many around here are aware, range in quality from poor to decent. I'm setting out to create comparison charts detailed enough to find the gems in a sea of lightweight plastic and ceramic carts. Once the guide is more presentable, I plan to give HA an exclusive sneak preview.

What follows are the elements I'm considering for chart #3, "Turntable Construction," along with the possible values.

Is there anything else I should be considering? Are there any elements not worth comparing or combinable with other elements? Am I using correct terminology?

I greatly appreciate your informed input.
  • Drive
    • Belt
    • Direct
  • Cartridge Type
    • Ceramic
    • Moving Magnet
    • Moving Coil (no USB TT's feature these)
  • Plinth/Body (really having trouble succinctly comparing this)
    • Lightweight plastic/No isolation
    • Heavy plastic/Rubber
    • Metal/Rubber
    • Wood/Rubber
  • Anti-skate/Counterweight
    • Yes
    • No
  • Edit: Removed tonearm shape, combined counterweight with anti-skate (thanks for setting me straight Axon)
  • Mount Type
    • Half-inch
    • P-Type
    • Edit: Bayonet (thanks Axon)
    • Edit: Universal (thanks Axon)
    • Edit: Proprietary (thanks Axon)
  • Stylus Type Edit: Added more types
    • Conical
    • Elliptical
    • Spherical
    • Linear Contact
    • MicroLine
    • MicroRidge
  • Dustcover
    • Plastic
    • Cloth
    • None
  • Adjustable Feet for Leveling?
    • Yes
    • No
  • Tonearm cue?
    • Yes
    • No
  • Tonearm Auto return?
    • Yes
    • No
  • Edit: Specs (If Available) (Chart #4: Specifications)
    • Wow and Flutter
    • Signal to Noise Ratio
    • Rumble
    • Dimensions
    • Weight
    Edit: Pitch Control (chart #2) (thanks Axon)
    • +/- X%


This post has been edited by Knowzy: Aug 21 2008, 07:03
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Axon
post Aug 20 2008, 07:13
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WmAx's comments are very insightful, but I suspect you and he are not quite seeing eye to eye on price points etc. The DL110 is what, a $130 cartridge? That's more than the cost of some USB turntables. The SL1200 is, somewhat shockingly, still considered a luxurious expense for most of the population. That said, Denon carts (or at least the DL103) have the distinct advantage of having phenomenally rugged suspensions, and are good choices for family-friendly setups, I'd imagine.

I've had a similar mind at some points to make a guide similar to what it sounds like Knowzy is working on. Basically, what people need to know, in decreasing order of importance, is how to choose a turntable that:
  1. Won't f*ck up their records of its own accord. This, most obviously, means avoiding ceramic cartridges (I can't understand why the damn things are still being manufactured!). More subtly, it also means the use of an offset arm instead of a straight arm, an antiskate mechanism, etc. Of course, if it's a P-mount and it's completely misaligned or the VTF or azimuth are way off, that's a big deal too.
  2. Preferrably, sufficiently rugged as to not break if a family member/friend/cleaning maid screws around with it. This favors extremely cartridge suspensions that are particularly rugged - DJ carts and Denon carts come specifically to mind - although the high end Shure has a stylus protection device that allegedly works pretty well too.
  3. Doesn't sound completely obviously bad (low ground hum, acceptable wow/flutter, doesn't skip under reasonable conditions).
  4. Finally, the "finer" points of sound quality - environmental isolation, frequency response, distortion, acoustic resonances, tighter SNR and wow/flutter tolerances, etc. I'd argue that most consumers are not going to be caring about this.
  5. Upgradability: 1/2"/SME mounts, modding potential, counterweight adjustment, etc. Again, not a concern for the lower end tables.

So I guess the executive summary of your article needs to be: For the love of God, buy a turntable with a magnetic cartridge, antiskate, and an offset arm.

I think that alone is going to wipe out >50% of the USB TTs on the market, isn't it?

This post has been edited by Axon: Aug 20 2008, 07:15
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WmAx
post Aug 20 2008, 08:20
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QUOTE (Axon @ Aug 20 2008, 02:13) *
WmAx's comments are very insightful, but I suspect you and he are not quite seeing eye to eye on price points etc. The DL110 is what, a $130 cartridge? That's more than the cost of some USB turntables. The SL1200 is, somewhat shockingly, still considered a luxurious expense for most of the population.


Because it is a completely mechanical process, I tend to increase the acceptable budget expense on this particular format for playback hardware. I won't spend more then $200 or $300 on a CD player(and that much is only for a nice multi-disc changer; preferably factory refurbished to save more $$), but I consider 2 to 3x this acceptable a near transparent vinyl playback system, and personally, I recently bought a turntable that costs nearly $2000 USD, which I admit was totally uncalled for - but I was partly seduced by it's incredibly good looks as a decoration piece smile.gif . So far, all of the audiophile decks I have seen in the price range of the SL1200 are toys in comparison, when you get down to comparing the finer points. The absolute lowest price new(as opposed to buying used, where you can get some fantastic deals in superb early 80's era turntables) turntable that is any good I suspect is the Denon DP-300F. It even has a built in pre-amp so you can connect it to normal line inputs. I tried one of these, and it has a decent arm, and it has low noise level; I could not hear any rumble or hum in normal use. You can get this deck well under $300. It comes with a cartridge that seems okay.

That being said, my idea of $500 deck and $140 cartridge being 'budget' items may be out of perspective from reality. Sorry.

As for USB decks; I simply do not know of any that yet match the value/quality of the non-USB units currently available. That certainly does not mean they don't exist - just that I am not immediately aware of them. Probably one of the better USB tables is the Pro-Ject Debut III USB; but it's around $500, and frankly, a toy, when compared to the $500 Technics SL1200MKII.

-Chris

This post has been edited by WmAx: Aug 20 2008, 08:28
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cliveb
post Aug 20 2008, 11:44
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QUOTE (WmAx @ Aug 20 2008, 08:20) *
Because it is a completely mechanical process, I tend to increase the acceptable budget expense on this particular format for playback hardware.

WmAx has got to the nub of the issue. Turntables are mechnical devices. Unlike electronics (especially digital electronics), which have benefitted vastly from cost-saving technological advances over the years, mechanical systems are still expensive to build well.

The bottom line is this: good turntables cost a lot of money. There is no guarantee that an expensive turntable will be good, but it's a pretty safe bet that a cheap turntable will be bad.

As for USB turntables: like WmAx I haven't seen one that I'd ever consider using. And even if a really good USB turntable did come along, do you really want to be locked in to whatever phono preamp and A/D converter it has?
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uart
post Aug 20 2008, 14:51
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QUOTE (cliveb @ Aug 20 2008, 02:44) *
As for USB turntables: like WmAx I haven't seen one that I'd ever consider using. And even if a really good USB turntable did come along, do you really want to be locked in to whatever phono preamp and A/D converter it has?

This is timely for me, because just recently I've noticed several acquaintances (friends and family members etc) buying really cr@appy quality USB turntables that I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. Apparently for no other reason than the convenience of avoiding analog recoding.

The most recent example was my father (who I have to forgive as he's nearly 80 years old now and getting rather prone to making erratic purchases). I went to visit him and he just bought this $80 USB turntable from an Aldi supermarket. And what a P.O.S it truly was. Straight arm, ceramic cartridge, no anti-skate and no control of needle weight. Predictably the sound was very poor, very lacking in both the bottom end and the top end. What made this all the more surprising is that my father used to be somewhat of an audiophile and already owns an extremely high quality Technics turntable (purchased back in about 1980 but still in perfect condition).

Anyway my Dad's got the excuse of being old and feeble minded, but as for the other people I've seen doing a similar thing, the only thing I can think of is that they are just too lazy (or inept) to connect up an analog input.

Personally I think if someone already has a good turntable but doesn't want the inconvenience of needing a full sized amplifier with phono-in connected to their computer (this is the most often cited reason for wanting a USB turntable in my experience) then they’d much better off to just buy a stand-alone phono pre-amp (even a very cheap one) to go between the turntable and line-in.

This post has been edited by uart: Aug 20 2008, 14:56
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